Memo October 2004


A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in October 2004


I tried hard. Still, this time again went beyond a thousand words.

The EU Commission disclosed the list of the winners at the 2004 round of Culture 2000. Without hesitation, BO started to add those figures to the scores of the preceding four years . As it was expected, most new members stepped ahead on the rank list of countries that give leaders of winning grants (see diagram below). What was and remains a surprise, is that Italian cultural organisations have further consolidated their leading position; bringing home more grants among the 25 than when there were 15 full EU members only. Italians that BO asked about the phenomenon appeared to lack the suitable explanation, similarly to BO. More findings promised for the November memo.

At the moment of writing this memo, Mr Barroso is busy revising his previous casting of the Commission. It is not entirely certain who will be the next in charge of culture and whether s/he will read BO analysis of Culture 2000 statistics "with great interest", as Ms Reding did, according to a letter written to BO to this effect.

Also at the moment of writing this memo, the final outcome of the American election is still not certain. Have the concurrent cultural policies of the candidates properly been studied by the citizens?

During the 1990s the Council of Europe was manifestly the advocacy centre for European culture. This phase was crowned by the book In From the Margin. Cultural policies appear to have lost some of their vigour in most countries since, national 'models' have been converging, main trends diverging. This thesis was risked in a lecture at a Vertikult conference in Budapest. Said book was used as a point of reference and given to the floor for observation. The volume proved its appeal. It never came back.

New alternative?
A disillusioned yet hopeful group of personalities, invited by Alternativa Noua from all walks of cultural life (including a former minister) spent a full Saturday trying to do the government's job in Chisinau, to set up the basic framework of a national cultural fund. Delia gave a fundamental survey of where, how and why this is done in Europe, then Raul and BO presented the Estonian and Hungarian cases.
BO is by definition well informed about such issues. Yet I shared the amazement of the audience upon hearing that Eesti Kultuurkapital has expert groups in 15 regions of the country; or that it is in charge of constructing a museum of contemporary arts as well as the national museum.

Yet our real respect on that October weekend went to those Moldovan colleagues who keep trying.

Séminaire Malraux
BO is in charge of a seminar in the French Institute in Budapest early next week on sponsorship. The report of a survey done by the Romanian association add came in the right moment to influence the preparations. Most of the innovative ideas sizzling in culture can never burst to the surface in an environment of selfish, dumb businesses - this caricature-like description is not uncommon in our part of the world.

Neither this, nor the opposite is the main message of the add report. While most sponsorship acts are considered "superficial, occasional, with no benefit to the society", the prevailing attitude of managers "reluctant, reserved", the typical company that supports culture "has vision and civic responsibility"; in Romania personal relationship matters five times less than marketing strategy and the offered benefit package of the two sides. Get hold of a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">copy for your own conclusions.

Impressions from Lille
The annual assembly of the European Forum for the Arts and Heritage was prepared and run on a high professional level. The meetings offered too many impressions to convey to you in this memo. The main theme was regions; ironically, the warning at the final session against fabricated regional identities, and the fear that from obsolete clichés of nation-state culture policies we are heading towards the same on a lower level, was imprinted into our minds more than the joy of horizontal trans-border collaboration.

The opening session offered similar treatment to another pet idea of our age, our "need of the other", an excessive drive towards a compensatory visibility of cultures that are unfamiliar.

BO should retreat to where its credentials are. Peter Ungar's presentation on EU cohesion funds satisfied our thirst for facts and figures, although he shared the sorrow of the audience over the difficulties to distill the cultural component from the thousands of projects supported from these funds. If between one or two per cent of such money qualifies as "cultural", this is indeed about ten times more than what Culture 2000 offers between 2000-2006.

The Commission has done acts of financial wizardy by generating almost a hundred times more money than its own to the programmes of the European Capital of Culture, as we could read in the Palmer Report. In his speech to the Lille gathering, Robert qualified the tiny EU contribution with different expressions. While we laughed over his remarks about the bombastic rhetoric, lunatic rivalry and self-destructive promises of the past and future capitals, many of us knew how difficult it is to keep your sobriety and integrity once you are involved in the game.

Representing stakeholders
Once upon a time the European Parliament prepared a report on cultural cooperation associated to the name of Giorgio Ruffolo. Among others, a European cultural observatory was suggested. The laboratory of cultural cooperation, about to take off thanks to the European Cultural Foundation, is genetically related to that idea. In Lille a first attempt was made to define and address the forum of the stakeholders of the Lab. Those present voted on two persons to represent the stakeholders in the Lab's steering committee. One is Carla Delfos, best known from the European League of Institutes of the Arts. The other one is me.